The masters of propaganda

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If you aren’t careful, the economic fundamentalists will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing, says Bob Ellis.

By Bob Ellis

We have seen how social-democrat societies and some Communist societies kill fewer infants, nourish more children, educate more adolescents, provide more doctors and give better health care and old age care to adults and sick people and old people, than economic fundamentalist societies, and how the economic fundamentalist societies over-reward – by scores of millions a year sometimes – the unrepentant killers of the newborn, hungry and poor when a fraction of the current wages of western CEOs would cleanse the water and reduce the smoking habits and the chronic drunkenness of millions of the starving and unmedicated in Africa and the Sub-continent.

It is appropriate we should ask at this point not why the economic fundamentalists do it (they are male, proud and crazy) but why so many Western societies – the United States in particular – have accepted without caveat this greedy, punishing ethic, the code of the roving hyena, they live by.

It is to do, I think, with the skill of their propaganda.

In their many media and advertising campaigns, they say it is the politicians who are the greedy ones, not they.

These politicians are only in it for the money.

On a mind-boggling one hundred and seventeen thousand dollars a year, plus some free travel, these unprincipled swine work sixteen, eighteen hours a day absorbing the woes of crazed constituents and enduring long nights of ethnic dancing because they love the money they get for it, and for no other reason, the bastards, while the selfless CEO on thirty times that amount wants only to serve the needs of his much more deserving shareholders.

They have embedded this nasty idea in the public mind with great persuasive skill through countless newspaper stories and bellicose fulminations by radio and cable-TV commentators.

And they have gone after the union movement in the same way. The union ‘bosses’ are ‘rorting the system’, they say, bleeding their fuddled membership of enormous unearned salaries for themselves and ‘kickbacks’ for their ‘cronies’, all of whom ‘care little’ for the needs of ‘ordinary working people’, and earn as much as two hundred thousand dollars a year, the unprincipled greedy swine. They have ‘their noses forever in the trough’.

In an act of propaganda brilliance, they have lately made sure that the word ‘boss’ applies only to union leaders, not the captains of industry or those in charge of gigantic money-trading corporations, who bear the much softer-sounding title — CEO.

Back when they were called bosses (and were shown in cartoons as big-bellied moustachioed cigar-smoking top-hatted buffoons holding tiny shrivelled workers in their grasp) they were much more visibly evil than the term CEO, Chief Executive Officer, which suggests a quietly-spoken mild-mannered servant-of-the-public-good who never sacks anybody.

The masters of propaganda never target him — we have to pay him that much, they say, or we’d lose him to a better offer overseas. But they do go after small-time crooks, whom they stalk and harass on their current affairs programmes — people who sometimes swindle widows of forty or fifty thousand dollars.

Never the twenty-one thousand nine hundred and seven dollars a CEO makes in a day and whether he deserves this, and what he gets it for.

And they’ve come up with a very useful concept.

A Big Lie, some might call it.

This is the concept of the ‘loser’.

Most Americans have come to believe, in part because of the films they go to and the television series they watch at home, that some people are ‘winners’ and some people are ‘losers’.

A loser is going to lose whatever the social conditions he grows up in. In Seinfeld he is George Costanza, forever testing his employers with his impertinence and losing his job, forever saying the wrong thing to the parents of his girlfriends.

In The Simpsons he is Barney, the shouting, tottering drunk. In South Park he is Kenny, who through eerie misfortune gets killed in every episode.

A loser is not always a bad person, but he is cursed by fate. The trailer trash family of Maggie Fitzgerald the heroine of Million Dollar Baby are examples of this. They cannot even steal money from their paralysed daughter (who has millions) with any efficiency.

What is to be done with losers? Well, there are ways to help them out, to turn them, with difficulty, into winners.

This often involves physical torture, which is no less than they deserve.

Rocky is put through rigorous training, including punching sides of meat, in order that he has a chance of beating Apollo Creed, the world heavyweight champion, or coming close to beating him, in an exhibition match in 1976, America’s bicentenial year. He does well, and is redeemed.

Fast Eddie Felson, a skilful pool player brought low by drink, overweening pride and sex before marriage (and some low-down hoons who break his thumbs) in The Hustler is redeemed by the girl’s suicide, ‘gets character’ he calls it, and finally, in a thirty-hour game, beats Minnesota Fats and is banned from playing high-class pool forever. Once a loser, always a loser, it seems, in his case.

The definition of loser, unfortunately, has widened since the 1970s, when it first took hold, to include most of American society.

A loser is now that man or woman who is not yet taking home a million a year, is not CEO of Time Warner or General Motors or the star, on twenty million dollars a film, of the Lethal Weapon or Die Hard franchise and is not, like Donald Trump, making squillions and saying ‘You’re fired’ to this week’s apprentice, a talented loser who like Fast Eddie Felson lacks the last few inches of the Right Stuff, of Character, and thus, found wanting, must go back to the provinces and redeem himself, if he can, in the eyes of his greedy wife and mortified old father.

By the current rigorous measurement, it seems, ninety-eight percent of Americans are losers, and they take it badly when this is indicated to them, when they are fired or fail to gain entrance to a university or a Broadway chorus line.

They buy a gun from a gun-shop and shoot many of their neighbours or fellow students crying ‘Call me a loser will you, motherfucker? You’re the one who’s losing!’

Then turn the gun on themselves.

The appellation works well for capitalism because it absolves the system from the need to help people out. These people are ‘unredeemable’ and those who do not succumb to drug overdoses or shoot each other dead in turf wars in the inner cities are best imprisoned for six hundred years or given a lethal injection in front of glad, vengeful witnesses on the orders of Governor Bush.

Governor Bush is a winner, you see, and the one hundred and fifty-two people he ordered killed (one a woman, the first Texas woman executed in a hundred years) were losers. And that’s the way the divinity ordained it, we can’t do a dang thing about it, just give the gosh-darn order to execute.

Winners got there, the myth continues, by hard work. They worked through the night in their twenties and so made their first million through hard, relentless, disciplined labour.

Even George Bush, the layabout, coke-sniffing, college-flunking, boozy, womanising grandson of Old Money, got there by hard work.

And Ted Turner, who inherited millions. And Rupert Murdoch, who inherited a newspaper.

It was hard work, and not family wealth, that made them winners.

And it was laziness, not family poverty, which made the other two hundred and five million Americans losers.

That’s the explanation, and we’re sticking to it.

This argument would be persuasive if there were not a whole lot fewer losers in other societies.

Though 2.2 million Americans are in gaol in any year, only five thousand nine hundred Swedes are. If Sweden were the same size as America this would be one hundred and ninety-eight thousand, less than a tenth of the number.

And the number of murders (a sure sign of losers protesting their fates) per year in Britain is seven hundred and thirty-seven, compared with sixteen thousand in America.

Obesity, divorce, school shootings and appearances on The Jerry Springer Show in America outscore all other societies on earth.

So is it being born a loser, or being an American citizen, that is the main, predominant factor in stuffing up one’s life?

Are Americans genetically stupider? Is that the reason?

Or is it the way they are treated?

(This is an excerpt from Bob Ellis’ 2010 book The Capitalism Delusion)

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